All posts tagged: Asian American parents

The Parents Trying to Pass Down a Language They Hardly Speak

The Parents Trying to Pass Down a Language They Hardly Speak

My mother used to tell a certain story at family parties when trying to explain why my sisters and I didn’t really speak Cantonese, my parents’ primary language. It’s probably a familiar narrative, especially to kids of immigrants in America. Still, it stung every time I heard it. When my oldest sister, Steph, was in her suburban-Connecticut kindergarten, she returned home one afternoon embarrassed and upset, and insisted that our parents talk to her only in English. Steph was young and doesn’t remember the specifics, though the scenario is easy to imagine: some kid, probably oblivious but still cruel. Our parents, who came to the United States separately from Guangzhou, China, in the late 1960s and early 1970s by way of Hong Kong, spoke mostly the Chinese dialects Cantonese and Taishanese to us, but also possessed fluent English from their education in colonial Hong Kong. They conceded to Steph’s request, my father told me, and we became a primarily English-speaking household. Although my sisters and I could understand and speak some Cantonese (mine was the …